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Album Review: “Swimming” by Mac Miller

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Album Review: “Swimming” by Mac Miller

Mac Miller at the 2017 Splash! music festival (Wikimedia Commons).

Mac Miller at the 2017 Splash! music festival (Wikimedia Commons).

Nicolas Völcker [CC BY-SA 4.0

Mac Miller at the 2017 Splash! music festival (Wikimedia Commons).

Nicolas Völcker [CC BY-SA 4.0

Nicolas Völcker [CC BY-SA 4.0

Mac Miller at the 2017 Splash! music festival (Wikimedia Commons).

Thomas Koon, Contributing Writer

From the white boy frat rapping of “K.I.D.S.” to the cozy, passionate jazz sound palettes of “The Divine Feminine,” Mac Miller’s music career had taken as many turns as his celebrity life. Four albums, two extended plays, 12  mixtapes, 31 singles, being the target of a Donald Trump Twitter rant and a breakup with popular singer Ariana Grande all culminated on his heartfelt fifth and final studio album, “Swimming.”

Due to its release on Aug. 3, the same day as Travis Scott’s “Astroworld,” Miller’s latest album was unfortunately largely overlooked. However, his recent tragic death on Sept. 7 from suspected drug overdose calls for a re-evaluation of his album.

“Swimming” is a mental health break in the form of an hour-long jazz-rap album. It is Mac Miller trying his best to find a light in the darkness of his life, an anxious man counting to ten and taking deep breaths.

I’ve been going through it, you just go around it,he raps on the second song “Hurt Feelings,” showing his willingness to face his troubles.

The album begins with the gentle poem “Come Back to Earth,” laying the thematic foundation of the album: self-acceptance, self-care, love, and swimming metaphors. In this song, Miller lays out conflicting lyrics that reflect his conflicted mind. He contemplates suicide (“I just need a way out my head”) and states his progression on his mental liberation journey (“I was drowning, now I’m swimming / through stressful waters to relief”). It’s heavenly but a little eerie. The vocals are backed by a pretty piano and string combination.

In “Swimming,” Mac Miller switches up moods often to keep it interesting. The second and third tracks take a positive turn from the emotional wreckage of the first. “Hurt Feelings” is a positive outlook on how far he’s come: chock full of pleasant imagery and luxurious details of celebrity life. Miller bounces lines like “listenin’ to Whitney and whippin’ it through the city” over a cold J. Cole- produced instrumental. “What’s the Use?” picks up the mood even more, with a groovy Thundercat bass guitar and subtle Snoop Dogg vocals. Similarly, Miller jumps from the atmospheric, minimalist beat of “Wings” to the wonderful saxophone-backed anthem on “Ladders.” Produced by Kanye West and Frank Ocean collaborator Jon Brion, “Ladders” is the album’s peak of positivity.

As he has in the past, Mac Miller touches on his drug addiction on “Jet Fuel,” the darkest cut on the album. The song’s eerie chorus is a tribute to the cannabis strain the song is named after: “Now I’m in the clouds, come down when I run out of jet fuel / But I never run out of jet fuel.” Mac is saying he’ll never “Come Back to Earth” (the first song on the album), and he never did. He had long understood and accepted that his addiction would ultimately take his life.

Miller concludes “Swimming” with the haunting, melancholic song “So It Goes.” The phrase “so it goes” is an allusion to Kurt Vonnegut’s novel, Slaughterhouse-Five, in which the saying is repeated every time a character dies. The phrase is used in the chorus.

On “So It Goes,” Mac Miller finds himself frustrated, kicking himself for his irresponsibility and searching for inner peace. He is exasperated with his life: “my god, it go on and on, just like a circle, I go back to where I’m from.” The seemingly nonsensical “da-da-da” sing-song vocals complete the gloomy mood, showcasing an exhausted man with nothing left to say. “So it goes,” Miller cries before a powerful string section carries the album to its final moments.

“Swimming” was Mac Miller trying his best to feel comfortable with himself, no matter what the cost. If the self-care doesn’t work, maybe the drugs will. Given the frequent swimming metaphors in the lyrics, Mac is always trying to keep his head above the water. But he couldn’t keep it up forever, and he came to terms with this at the end of the record. “Swimming” represents Mac’s battle of trying to save himself, and ultimately giving up. So it goes.

 

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